ART OF THE CUT with documentary editor Paul Crowder, ACE

Paul Crowder, ACE is a London-born, L.A.-based editor. I last spoke with him when he edited Ron Howard’s fantastic tribute to the Fab Four: “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years.” Before cutting “Eight Days,” Paul edited and directed dozens of documentaries and shows and was probably most famously associated with the 2001 Sundance Audience Award-winning documentary, “Dogtown and Z-Boys.”

Paul and I reconnected for this interview as he completed another musical documentary collaboration with Ron Howard about the world-famous operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti.

(This interview was transcribed with SpeedScriber. Thanks to Martin Baker at Digital Heaven)

HULLFISH: To start off there’s this great opening home video — kind of impromptu performance in this Amazon theater (meaning the Amazon jungle, not the internet retailer). Tell me about deciding to start the movie in that way. It’s not an obvious way to start this film.

CROWDER: No. What I felt when I was making the very first structure of the film was that we need to hear his voice from the outset because really that’s what it was all about. If it wasn’t for his voice being as amazing as it was, he’d just have been a regular opera singer, so hearing his voice was always the key. We had built another completely different idea where he was battling with nerves before going on stage. We were sort of stumbling around with the opening. Now, we had this interview with Andrea Griminelli, who was the flautist on his tour and he told us this story how they went into the jungle and Luciano sang in this opera house in the middle of nowhere and then he told us that he had video of it. We did his interview in Italian because we wanted everyone to talk in their native language so they could really express themselves correctly. He told us he’d send it to us. So we waited and waited and he finally sent this footage.

So now we’ve built our film. We’ve got a lot of the film done with good sections and we finally see this footage which is beautiful, but what do we do with it? It sat around for quite a while and then when we were really thinking about the beginning and Mark Monroe said “I have an idea, send me the raw Amazon Footage.” And he wrote this whole beginning based on that. Watching the footage and hearing Luciano, and you sit back for a second and listen to his voice in that place and realize that it’s just been recorded on a camcorder — not even like a very good one at the time — and he’s doing it by hand you can hear his fingers on the camera, but the beautiful, natural amphitheater acoustics and the theater itself, and just the power of his voice with a little piano — it was like, “why did we not think of this sooner” and it was just one of those moments where you find something and your beginning comes together. It was one of the last things we did. It was one of the last big, big decisions that we made was that opening of the film. It was the same with the Beatles. We had a whole bunch of different beginnings for the Beatles. And right at the end after a screening in New York, we had a sort of “come to Jesus moment.” Once again, Mark had the ideas of the suits. They put the suits on. They take them off at the end. They become Sgt. Pepper. So we built the scene with the suits.

editor Paul Crowder, ACE at Abbey Road Studios for the mix.

You never know where the strengths of your films are going to come from sometimes. That’s what’s really great about this craft, I’m sure you know, that you discover so much within it and you get to have a moment like this suddenly come up and kick your film off in the most perfect way. Because what we always want to do is surprise your audience. Give them something they’re not expecting. You’re in the Amazon jungle in 1995. What are we doing here? And then this story develops and then you see this incredible candid moment that no one’s ever seen before. And it’s presented in its raw form.

HULLFISH: It also showed that he doesn’t need to perform for some gigantic audience. He just wants to sing.

CROWDER: Exactly. He’s also probably thinking, “Caruso stood right here and sang. I’m right where he stood.” Eventually, we went back to Andrea and got him to tell us the story in English because we felt that it would be nice if — at the beginning of the film — that we didn’t have to have people reading subtitles.

HULLFISH: Do you remember what the original idea had been to start the film prior to choosing the Amazon footage?

CROWDER: We originally decided to start with him singing Ave Maria. Ave Maria with imagery — a montage. It’s actually the same concert and performance that we use at the end, but there’s no film or video of that performance. The imagery on the screen was just going to be of the theater, imagery giving a sense of stage, of lights, of makeup, all the elements of a production of opera and just a couple of images of him. Again, the idea of being, I don’t really need to look at him. I just need to listen. Just take in the voice. This is what the fuss is all about. This is why we’re making the film. Just listen. But it was a fairly long piece. It’s a five-minute piece. And it’s hard to sustain that without solid imagery to back it up. It worked in its own sense, but it was a tad self-indulgent. Arias don’t just edit down. There isn’t a place we can jump from here to there. It isn’t four-bar chorus verse. It doesn’t quite work that way. We had musical experts try to find a way to compress the song and they couldn’t. So we moved on from that.

HULLFISH: I know that you are a musician and a drummer, so you have a great musical background yourself, so how much did that help you in trying to work through some of these musical numbers work with?

CROWDER: Massively. It is very helpful having musical knowledge. Understanding musical theory is something I did in my pre-teens. Knowing about keys and knowing about chords and what chords can go next to each other and what transitions can work when editing down a complicated piece. Can you go from this phrase to that phrase musically? Does that musically make sense? What’s wonderful is that my assistant Sierra Neal is also an incredible musician herself, so I could double-check with her. I have to say how incredible Sierra was — what an amazing asset she was to this whole production. I met her at the end of The Beatles film, she helped us through the on-line, she is just brilliant. She gets a music supervisor credit with me on this as well because she was very instrumental in finding the right arias for each section as we went through the film.

HULLFISH: There’s a great montage of what a fun guy Pavarotti is, and it gives the audience a sense — right off the bat — that this is not going to just be a stuffy opera documentary. I love that at the top. Tell me a little bit about that montage and why it was there.

CROWDER: Exactly. We’ve had this beautiful singing moment. Now we start out with him at home doing something that he’d later become accustomed to doing — painting. So that’s a classic scene of just relaxing at home and a little verite, we’re going to go behind the curtain. You’re going to be at home with him. We’re going to show this side of him. I was very aware of his sense of humor — about his upbeat look on life. At the end of the film, I wanted everyone to be able to say, “I wish I could have met him.” We definitely wanted to get his humor out there throughout the film, but definitely at the top it felt like: now that we’ve had this moment of singing it would be great if we sort of brought the pace up a little bit — got the audience’s energy going.

Detail of the audio tracks of the Avid timeline

That was one of the musical pieces Sierra picked — where we come up with a nice upbeat piece of music and then we just show these clips: one of him making a joke, just coming in with the punch line. You don’t need to hear the joke. You don’t even need to know what the jokes about. Making faces, playing soccer, singing with a flower — you get that this guy likes to have a laugh. You definitely know that this is a fun chap. He also takes himself seriously. You see him meeting Kofi Anan — the head of the U.N.

We wanted to give this sense that he’s a broad character — this is not just an opera singer. There’s more to this man. He’s fun and he’s serious and he’s giving. There are so many traits to him that we always wanted to keep trying to push. These great moments that show you “There’s the guy. There he is in real life.” Those things carry so much weight.

HULLFISH: When you run a montage like that at the beginning it sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

CROWDER: Yes. Well here’s the thing: the pacing of operatic music is not upbeat. It’s generally slow-paced. Even the liveliest of songs might get serious and make the film drag a little bit, so wherever possible we wanted to keep the pace up. Try and get to things quickly. That was a particular moment where we thought: “let’s get out of the gate and get moving here” because we knew we had a little speech coming and then we were going to do some of the backstory. It was going to slow down a little, so let’s make sure we’ve got some pace upfront to kick us along and give us a sense that the film’s going to have these moments too. So establishing the rhythm early on.

HULLFISH: There’s an early interview with him — and it’s an interview that makes a return at the end of the movie — and I’m assuming that your desire was to stay on his face while he’s doing this interview, so you used these little VHS transition effects to cover some edits, I assume. Tell me about choosing to do that and why you don’t do a cutaway.

Nicoletta Mantovani and Luciano Pavarotti

CROWDER: Basically we didn’t have anything to cut away to. She’s shooting him on the balcony. The ocean is happening in the background and because of the way we were cutting up some of the audio, you could hear the ocean get cut, so we had to add our own ocean sound effect to help cover the transitions and give us a sense of place. On the videotape that comes from there’s footage of the sunsets and some trees and then suddenly we’re on the balcony with him, so that’s all that we had of the moment. So I didn’t really have cutaways and I wasn’t too into the hard cutting that shows you that there’s definitely an edit happening here. So I used those video transitions because the video was kind of crappy anyway. I thought I’d lean on the crappiness to try to soften the fact that we were pulling up the edits. We had to rush the on-line and really didn’t achieve those transitions as well as I would have liked. I used Sapphire effects and they do a really good job. But I didn’t really hone in on getting those looking as natural as possible. Did they frustrate you?

HULLFISH: No. Certainly not. What I wanted to talk about was that sometimes, with a critical on-camera interview — or in narrative on an important line — you don’t want to cut away from it even if you have to pull something up. You don’t want to go away from him in that critical moment. You don’t want to be off of his face.

CROWDER: That was really it. I didn’t want to leave the moment. I wanted to keep the moment is if he’s here — he’s talking to us — he’s drawing us in. We want to just engage with him. I don’t want to cut to pictures of what he’s talking about. Just let him talk to us. There’s a great rule that the longer you’re on one shot, the more believable it always becomes. When you edit, you’re tricking the audience to a degree, and when you stay on a shot it reveals a lot more about the whole thing. You just get more and more sucked in.

I wanted to stay on him, which is why I didn’t want to do the cutaways. I did consider a FluidMorph (Avid “invisible” transition) but there were a couple of edits that that wasn’t working with.

HULLFISH: How did you deal with all the Italian language stuff? You mentioned that you did interviews with people in whatever language they were most comfortable with. How were YOU coping with all those different languages in the edit bay?

CROWDER: Well, when we did the interviews we had a translator. It was actually my cousin, Michaelangelo, and he did a simultaneous translation. So we had earpieces in so we could hear him, so they would give their answers to our questions, we’d understand their answers and we could follow up based on what we knew and then when we were asking our questions Mike would translate our questions in Italian to them. He was in a separate location monitoring and we would feed his questions through a speaker to them and then mute that. So we had that audio all the time and we had our transcripts and I used Avid ScriptSync to death in this thing. So we had transcripts to work with based on his translation.

However, when you’re editing language and you want to edit language in English, you put your verbs and nouns and things in different positions. So when you’re editing Italian you can’t be literal. You have to edit the Italian to be in Italian. Another one of Sierra’s great attributes is that she speaks Italian — and I speak Italian — so we double-check with ourselves and then we also sent edits out to somebody else who was completely fluent to treble check that we got the Italian edits right. In the initial stages, it was straightforward because we had the translation that we had done simultaneously during the interviews.

HULLFISH: You were listening to the Italian because you speak Italian or you were listening to your cousin who was on another audio track?

CROWDER: I’d listen to my cousin because it was much easier. We slipped the audio because he was always delayed by a few seconds.

HULLFISH: You mentioned ScriptSync. Did you ScriptSync to his English translation?

CROWDER: Yeah. We could have done Italian as well, but we just went with the English version. That took me to where I needed to be in the ballpark of where I needed to be, but because it’s Italian — because you have to edit it differently — you do have to pay a little more attention to finding the correct in and out in the Italian. The fabulous thing about the Italian language is when people are comfortable, a lot of words get melded into one. Three words get blurred into one sound. That’s one of these little things you have to deal with when working with a different language. You’ve got to make sure that at the end of the day that when it gets played in Italy, the Italian sounds right and understandable to the locals.

HULLFISH: How did you deal with all the video and film formats?

CROWDER: About halfway through this film, I panicked a little bit, wondering if we should have edited it in 25fps instead of 24fps. But at the end of the day, you still have to deliver 23.98fps. What Sierra decided in our set-up was to have a different project for every frame rate, because Avid can handle all these frame rates in one timeline. So we digitized everything in its native frame rate. Anything that did not have to have sync sound, we would transfer frame for frame instead of trying to match it back to the 23.98. So 25fps or 29.97fps were all slightly slowed down. We did some transfers through the Teranex and the rest were done through the Baselight in on-line. I won’t be using Baselight again, by the way. It was a nightmare. We were staying 1920×1080, so we didn’t need it. We should have just on-lined it from the Avid.

HULLFISH: So you think you could have online in Avid Symphony?

CROWDER: Absolutely. It would have been much, much easier. Certainly would have been easier translating a lot of the effects.

HULLFISH: Sounds like your problem with the Sapphire VHS transitions would have been better or easier in Symphony.

Screenshot of the project organization in the Avid Project window

CROWDER: Yeah. It was a needless pickle that we didn’t need to be in.

HULLFISH: There were several very creative transitions between stories using these opera posters that animated. I loved those. Tell me a little bit about that.

CROWDER: Those were done by Inka Kendzia who I’ve used to do the graphics on Eight Days a Week and I’ve worked with her since 2004. She’s done pretty much everything I’ve worked on. The idea was to try and get something organic. We wanted to be able to teach a little more about opera to everybody, so there were a few operas that we knew we were going to feature somewhat heavily throughout film and we figured it would be nice to put up a poster and have it give you a little one-liner as if it was a film poster of today.

HULLFISH: A logline.

CROWDER: Exactly and give that to the audience so they can learn a little bit about the opera that they’re watching. Inka and her team came up with a really nice design. She worked on the photographs too, giving them kind of a 2-and-a-half-D look to them (not quite 3D). They came together well and they are a nice touch to the film. We succeeded in the vision of it.

HULLFISH: You talked a little bit about the pacing and the rhythm of things and there are really nice moments where you break up an interview or the transition between interviews with just a few seconds of music — just to give a breath. Talk to me a little bit about determining when you’re not just going to have back-to-back-to-back dialogue — when you’re going to open it up for a little bit of music.

Paul Crowder, ACE (center) with mix team

CROWDER: Well generally the music speaks to me. This is why I like to build everything with music and not add music later. I like to do the radio cut first, so I have the bites and the music working together. Generally, it’s because you’ve got a nice succinct bite — it’s made its point. You don’t want to step on this little moment where they’ve said something and the audience needs to be able to digest that, but you’ve got a perfect moment to rest in because the music has this lovely little piece here and we can just come up of that section and go off. We took great pains to the sections of the film that the backing music was a piece of music from an opera that was reminiscent of where we were in our story. So it was a sad piece of it was a poignant piece or a dangerous piece — we were choosing the aria or musical piece that matched the storyline we were in. For Example, When Pavarotti’s manager Breslin arrives in our story I used the musical piece that introduces “Scarpia” the nemesis in Tosca.

HULLFISH: Talk to me about determining structure. Some of it is very simply chronological. You start when he’s young and you go older and older. But there are definitely places where you break from that chronological structure. Were you creating modules and then determining where the modules went?

CROWDER: No, not really. You want to be as un-chronological as you can when telling a story, especially one that covers from cradle to grave. We had various versions where we came into the story at different moments but it felt natural after “Who is Pavarotti, the man?” to show where he comes from. But there was a lot that happened in his childhood that — when we laid it all out, when we did the whole war and his whole childhood, and it was to a beautiful opera piece, it was a really great 15 — 20-minute section of our first cut, that was completely chronological. We go all the way through what happened to him during the war and getting sick but we just needed to get to him singing. We needed to get to his first performance of La Boheme as soon as we can. And because of naturally where we knew the story was going to go through the performance of “Miss Sarajevo” — he was going to start doing these concerts for kids caught up in the war — we thought that we could move the war part of the biography down to Sarajevo. Then, when he gets sick, we could move that childhood sickness somewhere else in the story where it’s relevant to something else. The key was to find the places where we can still get all this information that’s very important to learn about him but doesn’t have to come so chronologically. That way, we can get to where the audience wants to be — with him singing — as soon as possible.

Luciano with one of his daughters

HULLFISH: There’s a great little section where one of his daughters says something about “my father is a thief” and you used a series of punch zooms on a photo to great comic effect.

CROWDER: That was in the section where we’re introducing his children — his girls — and we thought, “what’s a good opera piece of children?” So I found a good piece from Carmen and I’m laying out her sound bites and putting it together and the music immediately after she says “my father is a thief” is right there with a musical moment aching to be embellished visually — right in the vicinity of where her bites have ended up, and I thought, Well that will be great! When she says “he’s a thief” we can just have a good comedic moment, like, “What are you talking about Willis?” so I just punched in on the music beats.

HULLFISH: There’s a pop culture reference you’re not used to hearing in an interview about editing opera documentaries. Some of my younger viewers might have to google that. (laughs).

CROWDER: Again, music is so important. If you get the right music under the right piece, it leads you to do things. I can’t let a beat go by without doing something to the beat in my head. If I head a loud snare drum or a big hit or something, I’ve got to hit that. That can’t just go by. “We can all hear that hit, right?” So something needs to match the hit.

HULLFISH: The great thing with that is that I never FELT like you were trying to hit visuals or edits on musical hits. My point to many young editors is that if you follow this advice about hitting on beats, it can’t be predictable. It can’t always be on the downbeat, or it can’t always be that the edit itself is on the beat.

Panoramic view of Crowder’s home studio.

CROWDER: Yes. Sometimes it’s nice to have the images move to the beat (as he snaps his fingers rhythmically), but if I’m in that situation I might have it edit on the snare drum THIS time, but NEXT time I’ll be on the bass drum, and then it might be on the upbeat. It won’t be on the same beat every time so it doesn’t get too predictable. You can get away with three of those in a row, but after four or five or six, it’s going to get really boring. You’ve got to change it up. Or have something in the ACTION happen on the beat. That’s far more effective than the edit being on the beat. I learned that very, very early. Jonathan Siegal was an editor that was working at the first place I worked at, ZM Productions, and he was doing this montage and I was doing my first assistant editing — it was all tape-to-tape in those days — and I noticed how many of the hits were hitting to the music. I was like, “That’s genius! Look at that.” I was so impressed. So I learned very early on the power of that image to the music. So that became something I was constantly trying to do. I actually got called out on it back when I was doing these horrendous “Cheating Death or Video Justice” kind of shows and there was some pretty gnarly action and I had it all going to the beat and the producer thought we were having too much fun with it. It was a bit reprehensible.

HULLFISH: One of the first dips to black that I noticed was when he visits Julliard. Was that an act break?

CROWDER: We’re sort of taking a breath. And there’s one before that. The first one is when he’s become a singer, but it’s been very hard, and his wife says, “I was the one who needed to make ends meet. The person making the money in the early days was me.” Then it fades to black and we come up on him opening the umbrella. That dip was turning a page because now his career is going to take off. Now we’re in Chapter 2. That chapter was a longer story too, because really what was the key for him — and we used to have it in the film — we cut it for time — was that when he steps in for Giuseppe Di Steffano on that performance he also had to do it for “Sunday Night at the London Palladium” which is a live show that went out over the TV in England. So he substituted for him as well for that show, so everybody in England saw him on TV that night. There were only two stations in those days. So that was his big break. That’s how he became big in England off the bat. That footage doesn’t exist. I was doing a cheat there and we needed time, so we ended up cutting it down

HULLFISH: I loved that umbrella edit. Was that sound effect Foley or production sound?


HULLFISH: I loved that sound and edit.

CROWDER: That that was Chris Jenkins, Sal Ojeda, and the sound team.

HULLFISH: There’s a cool thing you did — I think I noticed it earlier in the film as well — where you transitioned from a black and white clip from a Russian TV special he performed on and then it cut to an appearance on Johnny Carson, and when you cut to Johnny Carson, it was a hard cut, but you cut to it in black and white and then gradually added the color.

CROWDER: I’ve done that before on a few things. It’s just something I like to do. Instead of going from this clip to that clip, it’s almost like the audience clapping and we’re now on another clip where they’re clapping. It makes you think you’re in the same place. And then the color bleeds in and then you realize you’re in a slightly different place. It’s just a little way of tricking the audience to jump from 1965 to 1975. To make that transition feel a little more smooth.

HULLFISH: There was an interesting bit of score that you use with Madelyn Renée Monti.

CROWDER: That was Two Cellos. They do a couple of songs in the film for us.

HULLFISH: Two Cellos is a group?

CROWDER: Yes. Two guys, they’re incredible. Lots of albums out there.

HULLFISH: When you’re describing the Chinese trip, there’s a great lead-in about how foreign opera is to the Chinese culture and we’re watching this great classical Chinese dance performance and you use the end of it to great effect.

Pavarotti performs at the People’s Assembly in Peking, China. (Photo by Vittoriano Rastelli/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

CROWDER: There’s this fabulous film called Distant Harmony — a great film of his whole Chinese trip and when we get to China, we thought, “Well let’s hear China and get some nice authentic Chinese music, and in that footage was this guy dancing so it seemed natural to just see him, then see Pavarotti in China. It sells it perfectly.

HULLFISH: I totally love that. Talk to me a little bit about having the lyrics in the opera speak to a moment in his life. You did that multiple times — five or six times.

CROWDER: That’s basically the goal of everything that we were picking when we were picking the music for each section. We went with the right aria for the moments. We decided to put the subtitles up and it was kind of a revelation to us how much the actual lyrics were speaking to the film. We were being careful to check the lyrics against what our story was doing at the moment, but for the first few cuts, we were doing it without subtitling — without giving the audience the knowledge we had because we had read the words. So when we put the translated lyrics up on screen it just took it to that extra level. But we had a bit of push back from opera aficionados who didn’t want or need it, so they didn’t like to see the words on screen. From the beginning it was Ron’s idea to create an opera of his life because it was naturally a three-act play: he starts his life, then he becomes this opera star, and then he becomes a philanthropist, and he dies. It was a perfect opera and you have the ‘scena madre’(Principle scene) in the middle. The heartbreak is right there. The devastation is right there. The emotion is right there.

HULLFISH: I loved at the end of the Three Tenors concert that after the stunning finale that there was a perfect amount of time for the film audience to drink in the importance and power of the performance. Talk to me a little bit about pacing that.

CROWDER: That was definitely a thing that we were all worked on to make sure that we left enough breath because you couldn’t cut it too soon to get to the next dialogue. Especially with where we went from there… you’ve gotta take a minute and we all felt it. It was a natural feeling and we worked on it to be just right. The first version was too short. It’s such a moment. You just gotta let the audience enjoy it before you take off to the next bit.

HULLFISH: The third great comic edit but I love in this film was after a quote from someone that “If Pavarotti asked for chicken milk, someone would have milked a chicken.” And you cut to this great scared-looking shot of a chicken.

CROWDER: Yeah, that’s a bit of my sense of humor coming out. I just went for it. Later, I got a lovely comment from two people who knew Luciano and said that he would have been on the floor laughing. That’s right up his alley of things that would make him laugh out loud. So they were really pleased to see that because he would have loved that too. Anytime in a movie like this when you can get a bit of levity, it’s great, especially as we know we have some sorrow coming up in the story, its classic theatre, make them laugh, make them cry.

HULLFISH: Yeah because you’re leading up into some pretty heavy stuff at the point that chicken edit happens. We talked about open-captioning most of the Italian opera lyrics, but when he performs with U2 and sings in Italian, you didn’t caption that.

CROWDER: No we didn’t. We just let the moment play. There were a couple of places where we didn’t want the captioning to get in the way of the action and emotion. With that piece with U2 and Sarajevo, we just didn’t feel the lyrics on-screen were as important as the moment.

HULLFISH: This point where we are discussing Pavarotti perform to raise money for the children in Sarajevo is also where you decide to flashback to Pavarotti’s own war experience as a child during WWII.

CROWDER: It felt much better there. I think in the process of editing we’d put it there, moved it back up to the front of the documentary and then actually put it back. We wanted to show the similarities of war from era to era, we see a building blowing up in Sarajevo and a building blowing up in Modena in 1945, to show what these kids are going through, what Luciano went through himself.

HULLFISH: How did you organize inside the Avid to be able to find all this stuff?

CROWDER: It’s because I have FANTASTIC assistants! (Crowder turns in his seat to look back at Sierra, his assistant)

HULLFISH: Sierra, how did you do it?

SIERRA: We both sifted and sifted and sifted for many, many, many months. We would create bins as we went. We’d create a new category: Here’s “happy Pavarotti” here’s “Sad Pavarotti” here’s “Family.” It was all categorized by what we needed in the story. Paul would say, “OK, we need Pavarotti in the countryside.” So we would do a big search. It was a big collaborative effort on everybody knowing as much of the footage as possible because there is quite a lot of footage.

CROWDER: A lot of this stuff came from his family. Thousands of pictures from Nicoletta Mantovani, Luciano’s widow, and from Luciano’s first wife Adua Veroni and their daughters, Cristina, Guiliana and Lorenza. So we had everything organized by source; after the source then we’d funnel it down to categories of family; of him as a young child; 60s, 70s, Pavarotti, et cetera. But originally by source and then by events.

G7T0MK Music – Luciano Pavarotti Concert – Hyde Park, London

SIERRA: Photos alone were like 16,000 photos. It took a lot of time for us all to familiarize ourselves with everything we had.

CROWDER: It was difficult to deal with such a large amount coming in different formats and the trickier thing, of course, was that a lot of these photographs the family had obtained, but they didn’t remember where they got them. So you’ve got to try and clear they are coming.

CROWDER: It was difficult getting pictures cleared. At the end, the on-line got a lot trickier because there were a lot of unknowns.

HULLFISH: You mentioned how big the team was. Tell me a bit about the people that worked in post with you.

CROWDER: On the editorial side it was me and Sierra and a fantastic chap called Robert Martinez who is an incredible editor and picked up some sections when we were running out of time — we needed to hit some calendar dates. He would help me build some sections, then I’d go over it. Sierra was a massive help in creating sections when we were up against deadlines. We had a couple of other assistants throughout the process, Tim Binmoeller, and Alex Hughes, among others, that was really great at logging and finding photographs and cleaning up photographs and doing that. Then we had the graphics department as well in South Africa that was doing the 3D work on the photographs. That was a company called Meme and a designer named Inka Kendzia. Http://
And there is the archive Guru, Windsor Wong, who organized it all for each department in the production and had a spectacular archive document that had every storyline covered with footage and photos that were relevant.

HULLFISH: Tell me a little bit about your collaboration with Ron Howard.

CROWDER: What’s wonderful about working with Ron is that we have meetings early on where we set out our goals and what we’re trying to do. We work on looks — when we were picking interview locations. This would be a great place. We want to keep it grand. We want to make it feel operatic. So those are some of the visual things and when it gets to creative you have a deck — a little creative outline that we’ve all agreed on that we all discussed and the emotions and the things we’re trying to hit. And then Mark Monroe and I take all the interviews and we start to construct sections of the film and put them together. Then we passed the first 20 minutes off to Ron to see how we are doing — are we liking this? We then discuss with the team— too much of this. This isn’t really working for me. Let’s do more of this. Let’s build tension here, we need more emotion there. Usual things in film making. Obviously, having worked with Ron on the Beatles I was very aware of the things he responds to, the things he likes.

What we did do this time different from last time was that before we went back and did any revisions we completed the film. We got the film completely cut. Instead of taking the first 20 minutes and revising and revising until we get it, we would know that it needs work, but we kept going. We built all our sections and then took all our sections and then refine everything at once. So we have a complete film to refine from the outset. But obviously checking each section. We’d watch the first 20 minutes, then the first 40 minutes, then you watch the first hour, then the first 1:10, then the first 1:20, then 2:00, then it’s 2:30, then almost three hours. Then everybody’s saying, “We’ve got to make it shorter.” That’s the process. Just watching it together. Coming up with the ideas that are resonating — the things that are working — and trying things. You try lots of ideas. There were so many different versions of sections that we had — different storylines that we follow — we dived deep into and we didn’t include. Then we end up where we are and we’re all very good about it.

HULLFISH: And when you were creating those modules or story arcs, did you move those around inside of the whole?

CROWDER: Yes. Taking some of the chronological stuff away and making it NOT chronological. And then trying it in a complete chronological idea. The very first version of the film we had was an intro with Ave Maria, then a jovial peace which Luciano and Nicoletta set up and then we went straight to the girls. We were at the children and that was the very first bit where we settled into the story. So that was the first section we actually built — was the kids’ section. Then we discovered we need more weight behind it.

We definitely moved whole sections around, but when we did that, you also needed to adjust the segment to sit where it’s going to sit now. It’s like anything in editing — you decide “This would be so much better if it was in front!”.

HULLFISH: Thank you so much for this discussion. So interesting talking to you. Another great project. Eight Days a Week — this, I just thoroughly enjoyed them.

CROWDER: Thank you, I’m so pleased to hear it. It’s always a pleasure.

CROWDER: I love Splash. I loved Parenthood. American Graffiti is one of my favorite films, incredible soundtrack. And of course Happy Days. So to have the chance to work with Ron on the Beatles and to work with him again and form a really nice friendship and working relationship. It’s been lovely. Just a really great experience for everybody. He’s so easy going and such a fantastic collaborator. The important thing is, he’s just decisive. He knows what he wants. He knows what he likes. So it makes that part of it very easy because if it’s not working you know immediately and you can change it and move on.

HULLFISH: Love it. Well, maybe you should pitch him the Paul Crowder story: how you come to America as the drummer in the band and become an editor.

CROWDER: And actor! I had an acting carer for like 10 minutes as well. Two episodes are Ellen, the sitcom and the opening scene in a film called The Big Empty.

HULLFISH: Paul, great speaking with you, you have a wonderful rest of your day and all the best on this film and the those coming up.

Art of the Cut book cover
Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors

CROWDER: Thanks, Steve.

To read more interviews in the Art of the Cut series, check out THIS LINK and follow me on Twitter @stevehullfish

The first 50 interviews in the series provided the material for the book, “Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors.” This is a unique book that breaks down interviews with many of the world’s best editors and organizes it into a virtual roundtable discussion centering on the topics editors care about. It is a powerful tool for experienced and aspiring editors alike. Cinemontage and CinemaEditor magazine both gave it rave reviews. No other book provides the breadth of opinion and experience. Combined, the editors featured in the book have edited for over 1,000 years on many of the most iconic, critically acclaimed and biggest box office hits in the history of cinema.

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